Alex Diego has lived in the Hanalei Valley nearly 50 years.
Never before has he had to evacuate his home.
Never before has he seen water rise so high he didn’t feel safe.
Until Sunday morning, when a thunder and lightning storm unleashed a torrential downpour unlike any other.
“From all of what I’ve seen, this has been the worst flood event I’ve ever seen my 49 years here on Hanalei,” the taro farmer said in a phone interview with The Garden Island Sunday afternoon. “The house got water in it for the first time ever.”
While their home suffered damage, a tractor was flipped over, debris fills their property, their taro fields were submerged and a trailer disappeared in the deluge, Alex and wife Sandy are OK.
And that, he said, is most important.
“Sandy and I are safe,” he said. “A lot of people in Hanalei Town
have it worse than we do. If it floods here, some of their houses are totally inundated.”
Landslides and flooding caused by heavy rains have devastated the North Shore. Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation for the County of Kauai Sunday.
Kuhio Highway is closed in multiple areas, homes have been destroyed and severely damaged, and vehicles overturned. People were trapped, with an estimated 15 to 20 land rescues made.
The town of Hanalei was flooded. One video posted online showed a few feet of water surrounding shops and restaurants in the main part of town. Another shows a submerged vehicle. Vehicles were flipped over near the Hanalei Pier. One person reported that vehicles were being carried by floodwaters into the ocean. A house was spotted floating in Hanalei Bay.
The Hanalei district was already declared a disaster area by Ige due to several landslides and road closures there in the past six weeks.
The Kauai Fire Department is coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard in air and search and rescue operations on the North Shore, the county reported.
A Honolulu Fire Department helicopter and rescue crew were deployed to provide support.
Amazingly, there were no reports of injuries.
“Both on-duty and off-duty emergency personnel have performed a number of rescues and evacuations since Saturday night,” a county press release said.
The state Department of Transportation and the county Public Works Roads Division continue to work to clear landslides and debris that have occurred in multiple locations between Kalihiwai and Wainiha.
The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative reported power outages in Hanamaulu, Kapahi, Anini, and the area from Hanalei to Haena. Water was out, too, in many area, including Hanalei due to a mainline break.
The Department of Education has announced that Hanalei Elementary School will be closed today.
No school buses will be operating for students residing in Hanalei, Wainiha or Haena who attend Kapaa Middle and High schools. Bus transportation services will not be operating for students residing in Keapana Valley area.
State of emergency
In a video conference with the Kauai Emergency Management Agency, first responders, and Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., the governor committed to providing all available resources to helping Kauai residents.
“We’ve mobilized to assist Mayor Carvalho and his emergency management team,” said Ige.
The emergency proclamation authorizes the expenditure of state monies as appropriated for the speedy and efficient relief of damages caused by this weather event.
“In a situation like the Kauai flooding, the response begins at the county level,” Ige said, “but we’re coordinating help from around the state. Based on the county’s needs, we may also bring in other state agencies like DLNR to provide specialized skills and personnel. I especially want to recognize our Department of Transportation personnel.”
The governor is monitoring conditions across the state as the weather system makes its way south along the island chain.
At the same time, Adjutant General and Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Director Arthur “Joe” Logan agreed to an initial commitment of Hawaii National Guard personnel to work with county first responders in canvassing and assessing affected areas, and helicopters to assist in survey flights and rescues, if necessary.
Logan said the National Guard would continue to monitor conditions on Kauai and confer with Kauai County officials to determine what additional assistance may be needed.
HI-EMA Administrator Thomas L. Travis is working with Honolulu City and County Department of Emergency Management officials to determine what assets Oahu DEM can provide to assist Kauai County.
Ige thanked the first responders and others who worked through the night to address the mounting challenges.
“This is a team effort,” Ige said. “Nobody goes through this kind of disaster alone.”
More rain in forecast
The rain has been relentless and more is in the forecast. A flash flood watch was in effect for the island until 6 a.m. today.
According to the National Weather Service, Hanalei received a record 27 inches of rain in 24 hours. Wainiha got nearly 20 inches of rain in 24 hours. The Princeville Airport got 8.6 inches. The Princeville Airport recorded 12 inches of rain, Kapahi 9 inches and Mount Waialeale nearly 18 inches of rain over 24 hours.
Carvalho has signed an emergency proclamation as the County of Kauai engages in various emergency response operations associated with record-breaking rains, flooding and thunderstorms.
“We are working with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the Governor’s Office, the Coast Guard, and other partners to respond to the immediate safety needs for the people in the hardest-hit area between Hanalei and Haena,” Carvalho said. “This morning, we will be working to assess the extent of the damage that occurred throughout the night. For now, we are urging people to stay off the roadway. Shelter in place in a safe location or evacuate to higher ground if you are in a flood-prone area.”
Dozens of homes are reported flooded or damaged in the communities of Hanalei, Wainiha and Haena. Several homes in Anahola were also flooded.
The American Red Cross evacuation shelters remained open Sunday night at Hanalei Elementary School and the Church of the Pacific in Princeville.
Padraic Gallagher, Kauai Red Cross director, said Sunday morning that 42 people were at the emergency shelter at Hanalei School.
A few had been at Church of the Pacific, but some parishioners took them into their homes.
Search and rescue efforts were continuing Sunday night. There are reports of people who need to be rescued in Haena and Wainiha, Gallagher said.
Once people are safe, Red Cross hopes to get in and do damage assessment.
“It looks pretty extensive,” he said.
Walmart provided two pallets of bottled water to the Red Cross.
Big Save in Hanalei and AMR worked together to provide additional water to the Hanalei shelter and were working to deliver additional food supplies Sunday evening.
The area of Haena-Wainiha is without running water and power remains out for some customers in Hanalei and Haena.
Princeville Utilities Co., Inc. issued an immediate water conservation notice Sunday evening for all its customers in Princeville, Anini Vista, Kalihiwai Bay Estates, Kapaka Road and Hanalei Plantation Road.
The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative reported spotted power outages from Kilauea to Lawai due to severe weather and lightning strikes.
Officials reported numerous road closures. At one point Sunday, the list included:
w Kuhio Highway between Waikoko and Wainiha due to multiple landslides;
w Kuhio Highway, between Princeville and the Hanalei Bridge, due to multiple landslides and flooding;
w Kuhio Highway remains closed at the Hanalei Bridge due to flooding. The water level has reached 14.6 feet. Kuhio Highway remained closed in the both directions as of Sunday afternoon.
w Kuhio Highway at Kalihiwai Bridge due to flooding and debris.
w Hanalei Plantation Road in Princeville due to a sinkhole.
w The mauka portion of Kahiliholo Road, at Kalihiwai Ridge, is closed until further notice due to severe erosion.
Westbound traffic on Kaumualii Highway was being directed onto Maluhia and Lawai roads due to flooding along the highway in that area.
The Kapaa bypass road was closed for roughly two hours due to flooding but was reopened Sunday afternoon. Kuhio Highway near the Wailua Golf Course and at Kahiliholo Road was also closed Sunday morning due to flooding but has since been fully reopened.
Several feet of water flooded the Kauai Community Correctional Center and Wailua Golf Course.
Earlier Sunday, the Kalihiwai Reservoir was approaching maximum capacity. As a safety precaution, the low-lying areas of Kalihiwai Valley along Kalihiwai Valley Road and near Kalihiwai Stream were evacuated, the county reported.
HDOT crews were working to clear Hanalei Hill on Kuhio Highway.
There was about a foot of water at the Kuhio Highway, Kapaa bypass road intersection Sunday morning as vehicles plowed through, leaving wakes behind. One man paddleboarded across the flooded slough area in front of Coconut MarketPlace.
Many people took pictures of the rising waters at the Wailua Bridge.
Sunday evening, state DOT crews were using one southbound lane over the Wailua Bridge to remove logs debris from the Wailua River. Both lanes of the northbound bridge were open.
North Shore hammered
The Kauai Emergency Management Agency reported that severe flooding and mudslides ripped two homes from their foundations along Wainiha Powerhouse Road in Wainiha Saturday evening.
“At this time, we believe that the homes were vacant when the incident occurred,” stated KEMA Administrator Elton Ushio.
“We have been in direct contact with guests and residents along Wainiha Powerhouse Road, and off-duty firefighters who live in the area were able to respond and could not locate any persons in distress.”
The Kauai Emergency Management Agency activated its Emergency Operations Center Saturday, and officials continue to monitor the situation.
Saturday, county officials reported multiple landslides between Hanalei and Wainiha blocking both lanes of the highway and water rushing over the road near Haena Beach Park.
North Shore residents are trying to rally together, despite flooding taking out a section of the road in Haena.
“Really crazy weather here in Haena!” posted one person on TGI’s website. “Neighbors all pulling together and watching out for each other! Beautiful thing in the midst of disaster.”
“Praying for their safety,” posted another.
One man posted that he stayed in a home on Powerhouse Road a few years ago.
“We got rained out of the house we rented down there and had to leave in the middle of the night,” he wrote.
They were the last rental car over the Hanalei Bridge.
“I had no idea it could rain that hard,” he wrote.
Takis Brusett described the flooding situation “as pretty sketchy.”
He had to cross it to feed the horses up at the Silver Falls Ranch, where he works. Each side of the road was washed out about 50 feet deep.
“Definitely not wanting to get trapped up there all night,” he said. “Really hoping that the road does not give way, so that we can continue to access our horses and keep them fed and stuff. Also our company relies on tourists to take out on horseback tours so I don’t want to be out of a job for how long it takes to fix it.”
Diego said that early Saturday, he and his wife were not too worried about the rain, but tracked the weather.
Heavy showers rolled in from the northwest and conditions “just turned for the worst and it kept coming.”
It started raining hard, thunder rumbled and lightning flashed and the water outside their home was rising. The rain wasn’t letting up.
“I really had a bad feeling about staying around,” he said.
They went to their neighbor’s about 12:30 a.m., and a few hours later came home. Things seemed to be leveling off. But it was dark and he couldn’t see how high the water was.
“I thought that was the end of it,” Diego said. “I thought we were past the worst.”
The rains returned, stronger, this time.
“The second wave was much worse,” he said.
But by 10 a.m. Sunday, the water was right outside their home.
“We always have a comfort zone, a certain threshold,” he said. “This time, I wasn’t confident. I told my wife, ‘We’re leaving.’”